One Mom’s Journey to Color Consciousness

By Francesca Muhlbaier

Sylvan's Thoughts

I thought I was “color blind,” and I thought it was a good thing. Here’s one mom’s journey to color consciousness …

 

I named my daughter Maya, for two reasons: For the Mayan ruin my husband proposed to me on and for my favorite poet, author and teacher, Maya Angelou.

I was born in Mexico City to a Mexican father and a Cuban mother. I am very proud of my Latin heritage and have always claimed to love my “brownness.” I have to admit, because I am considered a minority, I’ve always related and empathized with other minorities. With the good things. With the richness of our cultures. And also with our plights and with our pain. “I’m like them,” I thought. Black, Brown – we’re all the same.

But, I have learned so much during the last few weeks.

I’m learning there’s no comparison to being Brown as it is to being Black in this country.

Not in the slightest. Although both groups suffer and are marginalized, the history of slavery in America and the systematic racism in every corner of society, and in all systems, still puts the Black community in a much more disadvantaged position. So much more than I ever realized.

I’m really learning that I didn’t understand the Black community’s pain. Not at all.

 

How does being color blind affect your kids?

I’m also learning I was likely doing more harm than good teaching my kids about race. I would tell people, “My kids don’t see color. We are color blind!” And with all my heart, I felt it was a good thing.

I thought that if I didn’t show any prejudices, they wouldn’t learn them. If I didn’t say anything demeaning about anyone else, they wouldn’t say those things either. If I don’t act differently toward other races and ethnicities, they wouldn’t do it either.

I have learned that my thinking is termed as color blind racism, which is defined as the inability to see racism as a continuing problem or one that is deeply rooted in our society. Color blindness prevents us from seeing how much racial inequality actually still persists. I learned that thinking and acting as if color didn’t matter actually made me blind to the real problems Black communities face, and it could have been creating the opposite effect I was trying to achieve for my children.

 

How do children think about color?

Children instinctively categorize people, places, things, memories as part of their cognitive thinking. It helps them organize their thoughts. Kids begin to realize things about themselves and see people that are not like them as “out of group.” They develop natural preferences to whoever is “in group.” I’ve learned that not addressing color and what racism is and looks like could have actually created color bias for my kids.

I’m leaning that I have so much more to learn. So much.

My feelings of “not seeing color” are rooted in my belief that God created us all equal, of course what is echoed by Dr. King. It’s truly that simple in my heart.

But I realize it’s far more complicated in our society. As parents, we have to prepare our kids to not only be ready for society, but to make society better with their words, their actions and their contributions.

 

My vow: Turn color blindness into color consciousness 

My vow is to turn color blindness into color consciousness. Instead of not addressing the color differences a child can plainly see, we will now explore the variety of colors and ethnicities in a more deliberate way. We will discover the history, beauty and richness of their cultures.

As it is with our Latin culture, so much diversity exists between Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, etc. that we can acknowledge the diversity even within races and ethnic groups. We will embrace how these differences make us unique. And, we will also acknowledge what challenges these groups are facing in today’s society.

“I think I’ve tried to shelter my kids from the ‘ugliness’ that exists, but if I don’t define racism and how it affects people and society early on, I miss the chance to educate my children and change the course so that they help fight for equality for all.”

My vow is to read articles, books and to listen to the Black voices that are educating us all today about what this systemic racism has done, and how we can make real changes to end it.

 

Ready to join me on my journey to color consciousness?

Here are some things I’ve engaged with over the last few weeks and a few thought starters to get your family’s conversations going:

  • How can I educate my family about race and ethnicity, and about the historical lineages and current implications that come with being members of different ethnic and racial backgrounds?
  • How can my family acknowledge and celebrate our differences in a positive way? Tip: Share what’s special and interesting about each culture and how that makes them each unique.
  • Does my child have a diverse friend group? If not, how can I foster cross-group friendships?
  • Do my children know what racism looks like in today’s world? Many facts are not taught in curriculum. History books tell about obvious forms, like, segregated restaurants and public lynching, but students don’t learn about systematic forms of racism in voting, housing, health care, employment, police discrimination and in the criminal justice system. Even the fact that top movie award picks have few, if any, diverse people represented in them is an example of racism.
  • How can I help my children with language and strategies for how to handle themselves and help others if they encounter a racist situation? Practice these scenarios so your children feel comfortable when the situations arise.
  • How can I teach my children that “out of group” is nothing to be scared of, but that it is something we should explore and welcome? Can you join extracurriculars or clubs in nearby neighborhoods?

These are going to be complex and uncomfortable conversations. But I vow that they will be ongoing, thoughtful and deliberate. And, I hope yours are too!

Of course, I will continue to remind my kids about the very simple but fundamental truth that Black, Brown, white and all humans were created equal. And I will continue to reinforce to my Maya what Maya Angelou is so famously known for saying, “When you know better, you do better.”

I WILL do better.

 

Read. Listen. Learn.

Here are some things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching to educate myself more:

  • If you have 5 minutes, read this PBS Kids article on How to Talk to Your Kids About Race which has great links to other media.
  • If you have 10 minutes, read this article on Education Week about what some schools are doing to raise equity. Then think of the questions you can ask the education leadership in your community for what they’re doing.
  • If you have 15 minutes, listen to Dr. Kristin Carothers with Your Teen Magazine on how to discuss current events with your kids at home NOW.
  • If you have 15 minutes, check out these inspiring young ladies trying to increase race literacy.
  • If you have 20 minutes, spend some time looking through the resources on EmbraceRace.org which helps parents meet the challenges that race poses to our children, families and communities. I started with this article on The Talk White Parents Should Have, which was eye opening on children’s bias.
  • If you have 20 minutes, listen to the author, Ibram X. Kendi on TED give an overview of what he teaches in his book, How to Be Anti-racist.
  • Want to test your own bias? If you have 20 minutes, or more, test yourself for hidden bias on Teaching Tolerance’s website. (According to Teaching Tolerance, “Studies show people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism, and deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden negative prejudices or stereotypes.” The first step in combating these hidden biases is acknowledging them. Once you know you have a hidden bias, you can work to understand and dismantle it.)
  • If you have 1 hour … Author Marrietta Collins & Ann Hazzard share about their powerful book “Something Happened in Our Town,” and the idea of “fairness” for talking to kids in this Mindful Mama podcast (Tip: Start listening at 4:30).
  • Book recommendations for kids of all ages, as recommended by Dr. Renee Wilson-Simmons who I heard speak during this PBS Kids webinar.
  • Looking for a book recommendation for teens? Check out this book, as reviewed by a teenager and her aunt.
  • Looking for a book recommendation for yourself? I bought Raising White Kids, and I can’t wait to dig in.
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